Victoria "Cookie" Franco-Herman
Investments Coordinator, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Family: Dan Herman, Personal Trainer; Gabe Acot, 11th grade; Alex Acot, 7th grade
In Her Words:
Q: What do you consider to be the three most important challenges facing the Montgomery School District at this time? Briefly, how would you address these issues?
Communication and transparency seem to be primary stumbling blocks. We need to be proactive – not reactive, from how meetings are conducted to how information is provided. Arbitrary and Ineffective communication leads to the propagation of inaccuracies and distrust in our community. Providing timely, digestible summaries of meetings, instead of relying on recorded video proceedings, is easy to implement and would strengthen the Board’s relationship within the community.
The overall growth and well-being of all Montgomery students must be paramount. This resonates with me strongly especially after two children in our community passed away. We are proud of our academic excellence, but to what cost? Students from MHS presented to the Township Board of Health in 2019, and clearly laid out the numerous stressors they experienced. We can once again look into school start and end times and see reasonable changes we can make. Also, looking into adding a component in health class or other ample resources to help students identify signs of depression and anxiety, as well as reinforcement to remove the stigma associated with these disorders.
The budget remains an actionable item. Our financial resources are great but finite. The strain that 2020 has brought to our personal finances and the national economy means we have to be smart about how we allocate our resources for the foreseeable future. How the Board allocates every dollar matters. We need to look at this with a new perspective in order to see how we can be more efficient with what we have available."
Q: What professional and personal experiences have prepared you for serving on the board?
Professionally, for the past two years, I have been the co-chair of the equity, diversity and inclusion committee within my organization. My primary goal when I assumed leadership was to be genuinely transparent with the committee members. As our organization was in constant change, I made it a priority to share information that was pertinent to our directive. Working with and managing different personalities presented its fair share of challenges, but I believe if you treat people with respect and honesty, a good working relationship can be established and goals can be achieved.
Personally, I have been involved in community organizing in Somerset County and in our town of Montgomery for over four years. I remain highly passionate about supporting and uplifting others. My involvement in grassroots activism and political work resulted in many successes across the board and fruitful relationships built. My ability to engage, actively listen and connect with many different people allows for us to work together towards achieving our goals."
Q: Why are you running for the board?
If you ask anyone who knows me, they know how much I believe in active citizenship. Whether the opportunities are small or large, if I have the time to volunteer my passion, skills and experience in any way possible, I will step up for the challenge. As a first generation immigrant, I feel a sense of duty to give back to my community. These past few months, I found myself working with members of the school administration, current students and graduates of Montgomery High School on curriculum review, development, and enhancement. We are lucky to have our teaching and administrative staff, who deeply care for their students. I want the community to know that these people are collaborative listeners, who want to mold our kids to be better citizens and members of our local (and global) community. I have seen firsthand the students and graduates of MHS who dove headfirst into this work. They are intelligent, resilient, and hard-working – a great example of what our school district produces. I want to continue to work, hand-in-hand with our staff, and all the members of our community."
Q: The success of Montgomery Schools impacts everyone in Montgomery and Rocky Hill, whether they have a student enrolled in the district, have a home whose value is impacted, or both. What role should the community play in forming policy and monitoring the school district? Is the current structure adequate? If not, what do you propose to improve transparency and community involvement?
The community plays a very important role. BOE members are elected individuals who come from the community they serve. Involvement in the school district should not take place in a vacuum. Community engagement is necessary, even if the issues are challenging, even if it means having difficult conversations – we need to hear from everyone, and not just the parents but also the staff. The situation the pandemic has put us all in already shows that we need each other to come up with viable solutions for the safety and education of our children and our teaching staff. It is this sort of inclusive mindset that can help the Board, the Administration, parents, and the entire community."
Q: Should Montgomery offer in-person classes during the pandemic? What about sports? What parameters would you implement?
With the caveat that I am not a public health expert and will defer to the overall guidance provided by national and state health agencies… I will be honest, this is difficult and really there is no right answer. As BOE members, we take input from the community and, in turn, give advice to the school district staff. In the case of a possible re-opening, the priority is the safety of all students, teachers, and staff. I know it is important for our children to be educated in-school – they need the interaction with fellow students and their teachers as a part of their further development, which makes for better learning and improves their overall well-being. But the uncertainties of the pandemic, the lack of long-term data and our inability to predict the future gives us very little to go on. On top of that, we need additional financial support from either the federal and/or state government(s) to operationalize the requirements being asked of schools in order to comply with in-person/ hybrid instruction. And I also sympathize with working parents who do not have the ability to take off from work, have struggles with childcare if the choice is all virtual. I believe this to be true, the district will do their best to provide all students quality education, the necessary support for virtual instruction, take the necessary precautions as guided by public health experts, but ultimately the choice for in-school or virtual education is a choice that families will have to make for themselves.